Three Common Lyric Slide Mistakes

While I may be an audio guy at heart, I got my start in this business doing large-scale speaker support presentations for very large companies like Stouffer Foods and Nestlé USA. Those years of having to get text formatted correctly on screen—which back then meant getting it right on the 35mm slide—formed the basis for how I treat all lyric support to this day. 

Perhaps because so few people are actually educated on this topic (yes, educated; it’s different from being “trained”), I see a lot of mistakes when it comes to laying out lyric slides. Today, I’m going to hit the top three I see all the time. Each is very simple to fix and requires almost no extra time to do correctly. 

Drifting Baselines

Notice the text on the right is just a little higher?

Notice the text on the right is just a little higher?

This one really drives me nuts. The baseline is the line at the bottom of a line of text. The base of the line. Get it? I see a few different problems here. The first one is very common, and it’s a mistake that happens when you import a block of copied text. Let’s say you have two four-line slides for the verse. The first is fine, but after the last line of the second slide, there is an extra return. ProPresenter sees that return and raises the text by one line. Well, not technically one line in this case, because the text is centered vertically in the block, so it's like a half-line. Which is actually worse. This will cause the second slide of text to be higher than the first. If you were cutting between slides, it might not be as noticeable, but most people dissolve, and you’ll clearly see the text step up. The fix is easy; remove the extra return and the text returns to normal. 

Here's what you see during the dissolve. Note the text stepping up. 

Here's what you see during the dissolve. Note the text stepping up. 

The other issue I see is when people start moving the text blocks around in the text editor. Don’t do this; stick with the templates unless you’re going for a specific moving line of text effect. After you build a song for the first time, it doesn’t hurt to select all the slides and apply the template to them to make sure everything is where it’s supposed to be. 

Splitting Phrases

This also really drives me nuts. Most worship songs are written in singable phrases. There is a bit of a trend in some newer music to be more free-form, but we’ll ignore those for now. Take the song, None But Jesus. The verse of this song is made up of three phrases. However, the phrases are not of equal length. But this is how it is to be sung. See the example below:

However, sometimes an edict gets sent down from on high that all slides shall have four lines on them unless it’s the end of a section. And that can lead to a very unfortunate formatting issue as we see below. 

This is just hard to sing that way. And I can almost guarantee your lyrics operator will have a tough time trying to figure out when to advance. Listen to the song while you build the lyrics, figure out where the natural phrasing breaks are and break the slides there. Your congregation and your song words operator will thank you. 

Dumb Quotes

I’m probably showing my age here now, I remember when we actually cared about typography and making words look good. I’ve asked Renewed Vision for an automatic smart quotes correction option, but I got blank stares when I did. Maybe it’s not a big deal to most, but as my friend Andrew Stone says, it’s the details that take us from good to great. 

What’s a smart quote and what’s a dumb quote? Look at the example below.

As you can see, smart quotes actually open and close the quotation. The quotes will look different depending on the typeface selected, but you can see how much better they look than the dumb quotes. Reading a slide with dumb quotes is like singing a song with a 1 second burst of square wave thrown in every so often. It’s jarring and ugly. 

So how do you get smart quotes? Well, you either take advantage of the programming library Apple has thoughtfully included and simply turn them on, or in the case of applications that don’t have that, you can use the following key sequences for both single and double quotes. Don’t forget to use them for apostrophes, too. 

This issue for me is a bigger deal at Christmas when more people use older typefaces to set the mood. Dumb quotes are really jarring in a lovely block of text set in Baskerville Old Style. 

So there you go. Three of my most commonly seen lyric slide mistakes. To be fair, these happen in Easy Worship, Media Show, Proclaim or PowerPoint. Though if you use Keynote, you can turn on smart quotes. Boom. Let’s get another 5-10% better this Christmas season, OK?

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